Small Favors

Winter in Pittsburgh can be a cold and cruel time. The weather turns gray, with a chilly wind and the occasional slushy rain. It has been this way this week in Pittsburgh, but I haven’t let it beat me down because I have made two small but uplifting discoveries. At work, we have this superautomatic espresso machine. You pour beans and water in one end, and shots of black espresso come out the other. Read On →

The Computer Science D&D Spellbook

We can’t help it. We’re doubly cursed: we program computers and we spent all our time in Junior High School playing D&D while you were having sloppy makeouts at the good parties we weren’t invited to. So let’s do this thing. 21. Detect Lie Algebra (agroce) 20. Osterhaut’s Ostentatious Optimization (peterb) 19. Summon Dire Knuth (peterb) 18. Prismatic Assert (peterb) 17. Detect Dijkstra (psu) 16. Ready, Set, Unify (psu) 15. Comprehend O-Notation (peterb) 14. Read On →

Live in Your World, Pay in Ours

I saw a Playstation 3 kiosk at the local Target tonight. It looks like for $600 you can buy a box that renders a desert and a motorcycle with a remarkably high level of detail that is also remarkably free from the standard flickery jaggy “looks-like-ass” filter that the Playstation 2 adds to all of its pictures. As far as I could tell, the object of the game was to drive the motorcycle over a cliff repeatedly and watch the character fall through the air while making a very loud noise. Read On →

Guitar Hero II: First Impressions

Like everyone else with a PS2 and even a little bit of soul in them, I bought Guitar Hero II this week. I’m still getting used to it, but here are some quick impressions. Likes: They seem to have increased the overall difficulty of the songs, but they coupled it with making the overall mechanics noticeably easier. The game is much more forgiving now, and much more likely to spot you “almost” notes. Read On →

The Camera I Want

Back in 1998, I was shooting black and white film and printing in the darkroom and generally talking trash about how crappy digital capture was at the time. I put the digital takeover at least ten years out, although later I would update my estimate to only five years on the outside. For various reasons, I turned out to be wrong about that. Less than ten years later, digital capture has all but killed film not only in much of the mass market, but in almost all of the pro market as well. Read On →

We Have Always Been At War With Mesopotamia

When briefed on election results, President Bush declared that the Republican Party was on a path to victory. He further chided media reports that emphasized results in House races. Tip of the hat to Rochberg for the joke…

The One True Index

There is a great scene in the film High Fidelity where one of Jon Cusack’s buddies comes over to see if the wants to go clubbing, and finds Cusack on the floor of his apartment surrounded by piles of records. He asks how he is filing the albums, and after some discussion, Cusack spills the beans: “Autobiographical.” I don’t think I own as many records as the character in High Fidelity, but in my few decades on this Earth, I have accumulated a small pile of albums and CDs. Read On →

Out I Never Did Figure It

When I still used to DJ regularly, I conformed to all of the college radio stereotypes. I spoke in the obligatory disinterested monotone (MP3 recording of a simulation here), played obscure bands on minor labels, and inflicted unlistenable electronic garbage upon my listeners. I was sophisticated. I was hipper than thou. I was, in short, a complete jackass. As I’ve gotten older, my tastes in music have both expanded and calcified. Read On →

Selected Problems in Computability

Sometimes, we do hardcore research in computer science. It’s in our blood. Here are some of the papers we have submitted to various academic journals at the moment. 10. The Travelling Salsman problem (peterb) 9. Mutual Exclusion in the Men’s Room (psu) 8. “Given a description of a program and a finite input, decide whether the program is a lousy piece of fucking garbage.” Also known as the Hating problem. (peterb) 7. Read On →

Trader Joe's In One Paragraph

Buy the yogurt, the chocolate, the mustard (sometimes), and the olive oil. Pete says that the frozen dinners are good. The cheese is hit and miss; it’s a much more restricted selection than you’ll find in either Whole Foods or the Strip, but on the other hand it’s very affordable. The deli case is a travesty, particular the box meat presumably distributed from the same place that supplies Wal-Mart. But the prices on Nova lox can’t be beat. Read On →

Splintered Cell

No more Ubisoft games. Earlier this year, I was treated to the tedious train wreck that was GRAW. Now we have the new Splinter Cell on the 360. The game does have the signature Splinter Cell stealth mechanics. Sneak sneak, grab, kill. Unfortunately, this core engine is wrapped up in shell made of crap. For me, Pandora Tomorrow was the quintessentially perfect third person sneak game. The camera was right, the missions and levels were well laid out. Read On →

Trader Joe's

All the foodie people in Pittsburgh probably know, but Trader Joe’s is opening tomorrow in East Liberty. Some people I know were saying “meh” about Trader Joe’s, what with Whole Foods just down the street. I, for one, am excited because finally there will be a place in town to get fancier foods without all that attitude. We got the flyer today at home, even way out here in the ‘burbs. Read On →

Dominions 3

“You will not find it difficult to prove that battles, campaigns, and even wars have been won or lost primarily because of logistics.” -- Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower I have been jonesing for a replacement for Warlords 2 for a long, long time. Ilwinter Design’s game Dominions 3: The Awakening comes tantalizingly close to being that replacement. Today, I want to take a look at the game — available for Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux — and talk about its high and low points. Read On →

In Soviet Cupertino, Apple Portable Music Player Owns You

Just over five years ago today, Apple Computer invited members of the press to an event in which Apple would introduce “a breakthrough digital device”. The all-knowing Mac rumor mill quickly swung into action, revealing that the device would be a music device, possibly a portable MP3 player, not a portable MP3 player, a wireless standalone cd- writer, a floor wax, and a dessert topping. Six days later – five years ago, today – Steve Jobs finally got on stage and introduced an overpriced MP3 player, and everyone yawned. Read On →

CFP: Porting Dwarf Fortress to OS X

I’m continuing to play Dwarf Fortress on a fairly regular basis, at least when I have time. I’ve reached the underground lava river, set up a magma forge, and my latest wave of immigrants included a number of nobles – a broker, a manager, a sheriff, and a representative of the farming guild. They showed up and immediately began demanding luxuries (for starters, each wants their own personal dining room, sheesh). Read On →

Baseball ... Button ... Mashing

A while back, I picked up MLB 06: The Show for the PS2 in part because the guys over at the Sports Gamer Blog and Bill Harris loved it and in part because I was bored and curious. Baseball, it seemed to me, was a hard game to convert over to the video format because of the need to potentially control so many players. On the PS2, the game never really connected with me. Read On →

Industrial Disease

The other night, we visited one of our favorite local places, the Grand Canal Cafe. For years, they’ve done straightfoward Italian food with a particular emphasis on pastas. Karen had a craving for their speciality: a ground veal and spinach cannelloni with a tomato and bechamel sauce. So we walk in the place, ready for happiness, and they don’t have the cannelloni. They have not had it for a couple of weeks because of the spinach scare. Read On →

A Short Take on Self-Deception

I can’t even summon the energy to write about Neverwinter Nights 2. I suspect this means I won’t be able to summon the energy to actually play it, either. Mind you, I’m sure I’ll purchase it. I bought every NWN expansion like a good citizen, but the game lacked snap. It was a victim of its own compromises. We can mock John Romero for his long hair and his broken promises. Read On →

Lost Talent

“Hey,” I said to Nat. “I got my Gamefly queue a little confused, and ended up with Lost Magic for the DS. You have that, right? Will I like it?” “It’s interesting,” he said, “but the difficulty curve is a little high. Play it until it gets hard, and then send it back.” I played through four interesting tutorial battles, and then on the first “real” battle (“Windmill Plains”, if you must know), lost 5 times in a row. Read On →

Just use sRGB

Color is confusing. This is a fundamental truth in the photographic universe. You can’t count on color to be a reliable constant. The film and the CCD capture color differently than you see it, turning scenes which look perfectly fine to your eye into seas of over-saturated orange, or veiling everything in sickly pale green. The gray shady day becomes a blue mess. One of the reasons I shot black and white film for so many years was to avoid problems with balancing color film for various lighting conditions. Read On →

The Right Honorable Professor Fizzwizzle

I’m strongly in favor of so-called “casual games,” but I am violently opposed to the moniker. I understand the need for something that quickly and concisely expresses to a publisher what you think the market for your game is. So I understand why “casual” is the word of choice. The simple fact is that “Games that are designed for people that aren’t total and complete dorks” is just too long to fit on a business card. Read On →

Shopping Angst Averted

The other day I decided I needed some tea, so I decided to stop off at Margaret’s shop, which I’ve written about before. Imagine my dismay when I discovered that it was nowhere to be seen. Oh, calamity! I hadn’t shopped there often enough. I hadn’t bought enough stuff. She was broke and living on the street and it was all my fault. The next week I discovered that she hadn’t closed, but simply moved a few blocks away to Forbes Avenue, right next door to Rose Tea Cafe. Read On →

The NPR I Want

When I drive to visit my extended family, we take a route from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts that crisscrosses through upstate New York. It’s not a long drive, but it is not a trivial one either, so it’s important to have distractions in the car. In the past, this has meant radio, but there is a problem with radio. There are large patches of the route that are, for all intents and purposes, radio- free. Read On →

"Keep Playing, It Might Get Better"

I’m currently having an “I wish I had written that” moment over Andrew Smale’s article “Keep Playing, It Might Get Better.” The best line in the article doesn’t actually appear in his article, but on Andrew’s blog where he says about Prey “I knew it was awful the moment I stepped through the asshole.” I wish I had said that in my review – because at that exact moment in the game, I actually thought to myself “Uh oh. Read On →

Personal to Andy P

You adorable little minx. Now if I can just convince you to get me a sneak preview of Banjo Kazooie 3 beyond what’s in the trailer, I’ll fill you so full of Belgian beer your friends will want to put a tap in you. For those of you who haven’t played the previous editions, Banjo Kazooie is only the best 3D platform game ever made since the beginning of time, ever. Read On →

They are Both Stupid

Reading through my daily list of online “media”, I’ve lately felt a low, almost background level of annoyance with the subject matter and tone of some of the content that has streamed my way. Here is the problem: pick any of the current questions of our time, and listen for a while to the debate that rages in the various media. The only conclusion you can come to is that everyone is stupid. Read On →

Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho

Recently, Bill Harris of Dubious Quality has been raving about a game called Dwarf Fortress. And let me be clear, when I say “raving” I don’t mean “saying nice things about it” but actual raving. Like, he saves the game to CDs, gets naked, and rubs them all over his body. Bill doesn’t just like Dwarf Fortress, he has gone completely around the bend over it. So of course, I had to check it out. Read On →

Margarita Amateur Hour

You’d think, since I’m always bossing people around and telling them what booze to drink, that I’d have strong opinions on Margaritas and tequila. After all, I have already written booze-snob instructions on how to make the perfect daiquiri. But here’s the thing: I don’t really know anything about tequila. This lack of knowledge probably stems from university traumas. Sure, sure, I’ve heard people talk about “sipping tequilas,” but I was more familiar with what I call “gulping tequilas.” Or, to be perfectly accurate, “puking tequilas.” Despite that, I’ve done a little research and can say a few things about margaritas. Read On →

Richard Hammond

Richard Hammond I don’t usually do this, but I wanted to take a quick moment to say that Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond who has been seriously injured in a jet- powered car crash, is in our thoughts today. Our hopes go out to him and his family. Top Gear might be my favorite show on TV right now. I certainly enjoy their wild stunt segments, many of which Hammond hosts. Read On →

Loot

Today at lunch, Pete was talking about how he had bought a house in Oblivion and how he had amused himself for a few minutes collecting things to put into the house. He had found the odd trophy, various books, but of course no candles. Item collection is a dominant gameplay mechanic in almost every major genre of video game fantasy. We collect coins, clothes, money, weapons, health packs, experience points, gay porn cards, magic items, racing medals, houses, pets, keys, and plants. Read On →

PTD #11

Issue #11 of Played.toDeath magazine is out, and the PDF can be downloaded here. My contributions in this issue include: Retrograde: Fool’s Errand, a review written to celebrate the fact that it is perfectly clear that The Fool and His Money (Hi! I’m True Believer #14) will never, ever, ever be released. (page 12) Indiescene: Deadly Rooms of Death, a nifty Sokoban-like puzzle game for Mac, Windows, and Linux, available from Caravel Games (page 10) A review of Glory of the Roman Empire (page 48) There’s lots of other good stuff, too, including a review of one of my favorite SNES games, Earthbound. Read On →

Lego Ping Pong

Against all odds, there are now two good games on the Xbox 360 that are not called Oblivion. The games are just well executed and fun. They are small and simple pleasures in a sea of large scale next-gen complexity. The two games are Table Tennis and Lego Star Wars. Table Tennis comes from Rockstar games, of GTA fame. The game is pretty simple. You make a character, you play in tournaments. Read On →

The Pizza Problem

In 1986, a girl fell through the skylight of a building at Carnegie-Mellon. She had been drinking on the roof with her friends, and lost her balance. On the way down she straddled a water pipe, which broke her fall and probably saved her life. She hit the ground pretty hard, and was knocked out. When the ambulance arrived and the paramedics started to move her, she regained consciousness. She opened her eyes and said, very groggily, “Are you from Capri Pizza? Read On →

System Shock 2 on a MacBook Pro

In case there’s anyone else out there who wants to play this game, here’s how I got it working on my MacBook Pro running Boot Camp. Thanks to the various commenters who made suggestions and helped convince me to not give up. (1) Install from the CD. The cut-down version on the-underdogs isn’t good enough. The game is cheap. Buy it. (2) You can install daemon tools and make a virtual disc image if you don’t want to keep the disc in the drive. Read On →

The Accidental Sauce

Over the years, I have experimented with making my own tomato sauce. For a long time, this just didn’t work. I’d get some bland, runny, tasteless mess that didn’t stick to the pasta. Recently, for reasons I don’t completely understand, it’s been working better. Then, the other night, completely by accident, perfection. One thing I have learned is that everything I was taught about cooking pasta was a dirty lie. First, very fresh sauce made from fresh tomatoes and not cooked that long generally works better not on long pasta, but on pasta that comes in small pieces, like penne. Read On →

Epitaph for the First Person Shooter

It’s time to stop blaming myself for not liking first person shooters. “I’m too old,” I used to say. “I’m too slow,” I used to tell myself. “My gaming machine isn’t über enough,” I’d say. But the truth is that the genre is creatively dead. What motivated me to write this article is that I played two first person shooters for the Xbox 360, Perfect Dark Zero and Prey. Both of these games were well-crafted and carefully planned out. Read On →

Neighborhood Food

Earlier this year, my employer moved our offices from a building in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh to an area close to the CMU campus in Oakland. Being at CMU has a lot of advantages. It’s an easier commute, and I’m closer to various people who I know at CMU. These things are good. I miss Squirrel Hill though. I miss the lunches. It’s not like the food in Squirrel Hill is particularly superb. Read On →

Downsizing

I’ve written about my need to get rid of books before. Tonight I made another pass, and achieved my short-term goal: I’ve taken enough books off of my shelves to free up one entire bookshelf. Which means I can move that bookshelf out of the room it is in. The amazing thing to me is that even after I’ve made several passes, I still find enough chaff to bury an ox. Read On →

Madden 2007

Having learned my lesson from the last time I bought a football game for the 360, I took advantage of the boundless generosity of the second Pete to get Madden 2007 for the 360 using his Gamefly account. I was cautiously optimistic about the game this year because the press says that the game is much closer to (say) the PSP version of the game than last year. The reality is that as usual, when they say “close” they mean something completely different. Read On →

The Proper Road Bike

I’ve had my current road bike since I moved back to Pittsburgh in the early 90s. So, I imagine that it is almost 15 years old. In this time, I have spent a lot of time shopping for my “next bike”, the perfect machine that combines versatility with technical and aesthetic excellence. The problem is, whenever I ride my bike I realize it’s perfect (except in the rain). This didn’t stop me from building a list of attribtues in the perfect road bike. Read On →

Civ IV, Revisited

Late last year I wrote a review of the then-new game Civilization IV for Played.todeath magazine. It was a hard review to write: Civ IV was a brilliantly designed game that was crippled by performance and user interface issues that made it, in my opinon, virtually unplayable. At the time I opined: [The developers are] rumored to be working on fixes for some of the issues in their release. If the patch is better engineered than the retail release, I might be willing to revise my opinion. Read On →

Things That Suck About Pittsburgh, #43

Pittsburgh doesn’t like one of my favorite bands, Me First & The Gimme Gimmes. (via Pittsblog) PS: It occurs to me after the fact that this could simply be something that sucks about baseball. Somehow I can’t imagine the band getting a better reception in whatever they’re calling Candlestick Park now.

Revised Planetary Mnemonic Update

Dear Astronomers: You seem to be having some trouble making up your minds deciding which of the celestial bodies orbiting our star is a planet. I read your revised definitions where you explain that Pluto is “not a planet” but is a “dwarf planet” (could you make that any more confusing?). You are lost. But do not fear. I am hear to lead you to the truth. What you have is a complex document that was hammered out based on political considerations. Read On →

Booze: Orange Creamsicles

The problem with White Russians is that they’re very 1986. The other problem is that to make them, you have to buy a bottle of Kahlua, and now you have a bottle of liqueur that you can only use for White (and Black) Russians. I was thinking about this today, and realized that I wanted something White- Russian-like (in the sense of “somewhat sweet, somewhat girly, likely to be served in a casino”). Read On →

Planetary Mnemonic Update

Since they’re changing the rules on me, I need a new mnemonic to remember the names of the planets. This one is mine and mine alone. “My Very Earnest Mother, Camille, Just Served Us Nine Pickles (Cornichons, eXactly).” (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Charon, Xena)

For the Record, RIP

I found out today that my favorite record store of all time closed last month. For the Record in Amerhst MA was everything a local record store should be. It had good prices (always cheaper than retail), a wide selection in all areas of music, not just the usual mindless micro-genres of pop music that most places have. You could walk in on any given day and find something unusual and wonderful no matter where your interests might lie. Read On →

Age of New Super Mario Empires Master Chief

It is mid-August, which means one thing. I’m killing time waiting for the next Madden. I’ve been doing this with a mix of old and new and new-old games. Madden 2006 I still pick this up and play it once in a while, especially on the PSP. The game appeals to me because running is too easy and the human-controlled defense is too good. This means I spend most of my time winning. Read On →

i digestivi funzionano bene

Some time ago, you may recall that we reviewed Italian amari, liqueurs that are believed to help aid the digestion. Our panel reviewed these beverages solely from the perspective of taste. Tonight, I had a somewhat overwhelming dinner, and I can report that, in fact, amari do work wonderfully as digestivi. So three cheers for the ragazzi buoni who make Amaro Montenegro.

Short Food Questions

I find myself confronted by the same food questions over and over again. Here are a few that have been bothering me lately. 1. I was in a rest stop on the turnpike yesterday. I bought a coke out of a vending machine. The coke was warm. This is not an uncommon occurrence these days. What kind of cruel world do we live in where cokes you buy out of a cooler or vending machine are warm? Read On →

Worms: Open Warfare DS picoreview

It took me exactly 3 minutes to decide that I hated this game and never wanted to play it again.